There was a young cricketer a number of years ago who was incredibly competitive. Someone who fought for his team and scrapped with the opposition in every way he could. Winning was everything, nothing else mattered.
He would talk aggressively at the opposition, swear at the top of his voice when he was hit for four and throw his kit around when he was dismissed.
He was a complete idiot on the field.
He hated failing and couldn’t tolerate himself when that inevitable thing happened and he got out.
Nobody attempted to speak with the lad. There were plenty of conversations about the lad but nobody confronted him directly. No coach, captain nor club official challenged his inappropriate behaviour. He was perceived as “talented” and therefore, should be left alone. Observers suggested that he would grow out of this awkward phase he was going through.
Should we leave this to chance?
The problem with leaving such inappropriate behaviours alone is that they are disrespectful to the game, to the umpires and to the opposition. They also effect the your fellow players and also the spectators experience of cricket and leave indelible scar on that players ability to build coping strategies for frustration, failure and loss.
All the best cricketers that I know treat failure, frustration and loss with respect and adopt coping strategies which have been developed through experience, by making mistakes, by receiving consequence for their inappropriate on-field behaviour and through having robust discussions with respected coaches, administrators, senior players and team mates.
Idiot number one: Mark Garaway
The lad in question at the beginning of this story is me.
I was scarred through my playing life by the poor decisions I made and the subsequent characteristics that were established between the ages of 14 and 23.
And at the age of 26 I was on the playing scrap-heap.
But I was fortunate to have a pathway into a coaching role that allowed me to turn from “poacher into gamekeeper” and help the next generation of players to develop appropriate skills, build resilience, to accept that failure is central to the game of cricket and that sporting losses are rarely life defining.
2005: The year that I “got it”
I was inspired in 2005 by the England cricket team. Yes they played good cricket, yes they played hard cricket but they also did it in great spirit. Michael Vaughan’s team not only won the Ashes after 19 years of Australian domination but they also won the ICC Spirit of Cricket Award in the same year.
Graeme Smith and myself worked hard with the Somerset team in the same year to win both the T20 Cup and the MCC Spirit of Cricket award in 2005. These two examples proved to me that you can be highly successful and play the game in the right way.
Playing in the Spirit of the Game doesn’t make you soft nor significantly increase your chances of losing.
It is actually the “tougher” thing to do.
The Millfield Meyers XI 2017 story
As a coach nowadays, I am rigorous about the way that I want my sides to play and conduct themselves both on and off the field.
My resolve was tested at the outset of this summer when Millfield’s most senior side (The Meyers XI) lost their first 6 matches and disrespected the game, the opponents and the umpires in the process.
They were not the side that I directly coached, yet they represented the programme that I lead. I needed to be strong, robust and unapologetic for my approach to disciple and behaviours.
I’m sure I wasn’t much fun to be around for that group of players and they’re hearts must have sunk at the sight of me for a few weeks.
I gave them several dressings down, issued match bans for poor behaviours using the ECB Disciplinary Process as my guide and asked Ex-England Cricketers to give their honest opinions to some of our players about them as people, cricketers and competitors. I also sacked the captain for his appalling on field approach and incompletely lost it in a changing room one day where I spoke to the group as a whole.
The Meyers XI then went on a 14 match unbeaten run before they were beaten in the National T20 Final last Thursday.
They received rave reviews from all umpires and onlookers for their on-field behaviours, they became good hosts of parents and opposition, they were kind to each other and helped their team mates to play with confidence and skill and most importantly, they won games of cricket whilst playing to the MCC Spirit of Cricket.
In recent days, it has been great to re-appoint the early season sacked captain into the main leadership role for our end of season festival. The player in question has had a tough few months but reacted well to some robust feedback and management. This experience will stand him in good stead going forward.
Millfield cricket has had a terrible reputation for on-field behaviour over the years and I am sure that it was a valid reputation too. We have changed this in 2017 and we won’t be looking back. Not on my watch anyway. We need to protect the game and develop good people along the way. It sounds utopian, but it’s achievable using existing processes (Disciplinary Systems such as the ECB one and the MCC Spirit of Cricket) alongside some relentless and rigorous management.
You can win and do it right at the same time!
So let’s all get on board and protect our fantastic game whilst building essential disciplines, coping strategies and skills deep within our young players.